For all its advantages, new frontiers, and innovation opportunities, the digital age does entail equally new challenges for businesses. Trends emerge and retreat, customer behavioral patterns evolve and change, and old practices face scrutiny. In this ever-changing landscape, it’s only natural to want to ensure your website is future-proof.
As the face of your online presence, it should be safe from unexpected developments that may hamper your operations. Thus, let us devote this article to exploring some factors, practices, and other options you may wish to consider.
The factors that ensure your website is future-proof
For the sake of consolidating information, it is vital to begin by pinpointing the factors that can ensure your website is future-proof.
1. Choosing the right Content Management System (CMS) platform.
As the backbone of your website, your choice of CMS can drastically impact your site’s functionality, as well as its adaptability for the future.
2. Choosing the right web developers and hosts
Such partners will lay the foundations of your website and its performance. Establishing clear goals and lines of communication can guarantee your website is equipped to meet unforeseen circumstances that may arise.
3. Ensuring accessibility and usability
The first metrics of efficiency, your website should be built to excel on both fronts. All content strategies will hinge on how accessible and usable your site is, which will affect its future course.
4. Perfecting technical Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Another stage of optimization, technical SEO will dictate your website’s preparedness to meet the future. Technical SEO will not merely affect your search engine rankings, but also your website’s overall performance.
5. Being cautious with trends
Finally, maintaining some healthy caution when approaching trends will dictate how future-proof your website will be. Some choices in web design and elsewhere don’t age as well as others, and updates may become a time-consuming necessity.
#1 Ensure your website is future-proof: choosing the right web CMS
First and foremost, it is vital to choose the right web CMS to ensure your website is future-proof. Defining “right” in this context should likely hinge on the following factors.
How accessible is it?
Non-technical users should be able to manage, update, and maintain your chosen CMS. Your internal teams will need to be able to operate it easily to ensure timely updates, meaningful additions, and swift responses to potential issues or new needs.
Ideally, its dashboard should be clean and user-friendly, and the content publishing process should be straightforward. While experienced users may navigate and operate it more easily, future-proofing entails accounting for non-technical users who may assume this role.
How customizable is it?
Another factor is customizability, in tandem with expansion options. When working to ensure your website is future-proof, you should account for such emerging needs as new sections and micro-pages, as well as added functionalities. Consider the following:
- Are customization options plentiful and easy to navigate?
- Does the CMS in question come with technical support as regards updates?
- Does it support plugins, extensions, and other assets that customize functionality?
- Can it support selective access permissions?
Depending on your unique needs, customizability may not appear to be an essential factor to consider. However, it is an undeniable advantage to have such options when the need for innovations may arise. After all, the concept of future-proofing hinges on preparing for future needs, not simply on meeting the ones of today.
Is it, and will it remain, secure?
Finally, security is always of paramount importance. While emerging CMS platforms will often offer innovative features and competitive prices, it is vital to note each platform’s security mechanisms.
From encryption protocols and SSL certificates to frequent security patches on the publishers’ part, you must ensure your website is future-proof in terms of security. For one, it is vital for building trust with your customers; they need to know their information is secure. Furthermore, it also offers a reliable safeguard against data breaches and cyber-attacks by malicious actors that may jeopardize your website.
CMS platform options
In conclusion, you should scrutinize all potential CMS platforms with the above factors in mind. Tried-and-tested CMS platforms should offer such advantages, while newer ones may offer competitive prices.
At the time of writing this article, WordPress is, by most accounts, the golden standard of CMS platforms. It powers over 33% of all websites today, and it boasts an impressive CMS market share of over 60%. However, many other options also exist, and how suitable each may be for your website content depends on many factors. Consider the following non-exhaustive list of CMS platforms with at least one release date in 2020:
- Enonic XP
- Backdrop CMS
Thus, a plethora of options exist. When working to ensure your website is future-proof, you should take the aforementioned factors into account and make an informed decision.
Perhaps most importantly, you should arguably have two guiding principles apart from the above. One, your ideal goal should be to build your website with responsive design in mind. One cannot overstate the significance of responsiveness in web design, as it directly affects the user experience and, thus, your website’s present and future effectiveness. And two, you should use simple code that’s easy to maintain. As highlighted before, code maintenance is a factor on which many future-proofing endeavors depend.
#2 Ensure your website is future-proof: Choosing the right web developers and hosts
As with all other business endeavors, choosing your partners wisely is always sound advice. In this context, a crucial first step is selecting the right web development vendors or agencies, and the right host providers. Should you want to make your website future-proof, you will need to apply the proper groundwork and ensure seamless, continuous cooperation.
Web development companies
As the very first step towards building your future-proof website, assuming you don’t already have one, you should identify the right vendors or agencies to resort to. Consider the following factors as you assess potential candidates.
Track record, past client testimonies
Consider their track record and history in the industry. Every such company will advertise their very best offers and credentials, but their online presence can reveal more. Evaluate their website; if you’re hiring them for excellence and responsiveness, they should be able to exhibit such qualities through their own website.
Furthermore, you should consider their customer testimonials. Professionals in any given field should have an impressive record of customer satisfaction, and testimonials provide tangible proof of their expertise. However, perfect, flawless records may give room for pause – some concerns or deficiencies should naturally arise over long careers. Thus, you may want to ask for potential case studies instead. Case studies that overlap with your industry’s or your personal needs should provide a better way to gauge their potential suitability for your task. Lastly, you may even ask for customer information so you can contact them directly.
Maintenance and support
Evaluate the quality and quantity of maintenance and support services they offer. In terms of support, apart from the level they offer, consider the following factors:
- Type of support (online, phone, etc)
- Support team location and support hours
- Presence or absence of an Account Manager
The need for quality support should be self-evident when you intend to ensure your website is future-proof. As new needs arise and potential issues emerge post-launch, you should have a clear, available contact point to refer to.
Similarly, in terms of maintenance, apart from maintenance quality itself, consider the following factors:
- Recurring maintenance costs
- Update capabilities
- Security measures and safeguards
While internal teams and operators can likely maintain your website by themselves, concerns over maintenance on the end of your vendor or agency are an additional safeguard. The very concept of future-proofing hinges on your ability to maintain stable operations despite unexpected circumstances, after all.
Similarly, you should make sure your host providers offer as many utilities as possible. While you may opt for different host providers at a later stage, it is always a prudent approach to make sound decisions early to ensure your website is future-proof without constant fine-tuning.
Efficiency, reliability, price
Initially, you should absolutely ensure that your host provider’s services fully match the budget you’re willing to invest in them. These criteria can expand to the most explicit details, but at the most basic level, you should expect efficiency and reliability.
Loading times will most often depend to some extent on your own technical content optimization, but also on your host. You cannot afford slow speeds or frequently interrupted service, as both directly impact your users’ experience. It should always be easy to reach your contact points for any such concerns, and unforeseen issues should be minimal and easy to resolve.
Finally, as with all such endeavors and partnerships, you should take prices into account. Understandably, all of the above will ultimately depend on the budget you’re willing to invest in each component. It naturally follows that a lower budget may satisfy your needs, but it may not guarantee the absolute best results. As such, your criterion should likely be to ensure the best value for the budget you dedicate to web hosting.
Staging a website
Finally, many host providers offer the service of staging a website. This invaluable service is a great way to ensure your website is future-proof, as it allows you to test updates and changes in a controlled environment.
The simple reason why this is a valuable service to look for is that any such changes can incur losses. Regardless of safeguards and internal testing, unforeseen errors can damage your functional website and thus damage your operations. Staging a website can prevent such losses during transition periods and allow you to continue operating at full efficiency uninterrupted. With WPEngine you can easily create a staging area for your website and then convert it to a production website with the flip of a switch.
#3 Ensure your website is future-proof: accessibility, usability and user experience
The backend foundations aside, there are additional ways to ensure your website is future-proof. Perhaps most significantly, fronts that your users will interact with, namely, accessibility, usability, and user experience (UX).
Accessibility is a factor of paramount importance for any website to consider, and it is financially, morally, and sometimes even legally imperative. Thus, it stands to reason that one can only pronounce its significance in the context of future-proofing.
Accessibility scores measure how accessible a website and its contents are to users with disabilities such as the following:
- Physical and cognitive disabilities
- Visual and hearing impairments
Such users typically use specialized software or hardware solutions to navigate the Internet, such as screen readers and alternative keyboards. Speech recognition software is similarly becoming a more widely used tool. Thus, accessibility scores measure how well your website can facilitate such software and hardware to ensure your website is accessible. Take the following factors into account as you work on your accessibility score:
- Choice of color
- Alt text, headers and structure
Lastly, as for why accessibility is an essential factor to account for, consider the following. Moral implications aside, it is financially lucrative to ensure accessibility as it opens up a larger potential audience. Some disabilities, such as visual impairments, are more prominent among older demographics – ones that are now becoming increasingly tech-savvy. Thus, a website that is accessible in this sense is far more future-proof than one that is not.
Finally, in terms of future-proofing, as regards the law, it is vital to note the significance of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines often inform the law in many jurisdictions, and there is international legal precedent for accessibility. Therefore, as you ensure your website is future-proof in terms of stability and performance, you should also ensure it is legally so.
Similarly, usability takes many such factors into account as well. Usability measures UX in tangible ways; how easily users can navigate a webpage’s contents and locate what interests them. While usability is an ever-present endeavor, attending to the fundamentals early on can ensure your website is future-proof.
Furthermore, many of the factors that determine usability also overlap with the aforementioned steps towards accessibility. For example, keyboard-friendliness hinges on users being able to navigate your website without using a mouse. Choosing a structure that can enable keyboard-only navigation will make your website more usable for all visitors, as well as ensure a clear and straightforward design. In the same way, clear Calls to Action (CTAs) and an efficient sitemap can allow all users to more easily find the information they seek.
Finally, attending to mobile-friendliness can have similar results towards ensuring usability. As ever more Internet users navigate the web through mobile devices, mobile-friendliness can ensure your website is future-proof. Unlike other trends whose course may be questionable, the shift towards mobile devices seems to be a steady direction. Furthermore, mobile-friendly designs also tend to overlap with the advantages mentioned above; being lighter on the eyes and less cluttered, they are often easier to navigate. Simply allowing browsers to display your website’s mobile version on demand can be an incredibly significant step towards future-proofing.
#4 Ensure your website is future-proof: technical SEO
Regardless of the context, technical and on-page SEO should both be priorities for any business website. In the context of working to ensure your website is future-proof, however, technical SEO can arguably be far more critical. While on-page SEO can change over time, technical SEO guarantees the technical efficiency of your website.
Technical SEO seeks to optimize your website’s infrastructure, and thus it mostly focuses on crawling and indexing practices. However, many of its criteria overlap with the aforementioned subjects – mobile-friendliness, for example, also affects responsiveness and UX. As such, many of the best practices for technical SEO also affect your website’s UX. Consider the following aspects of your website as you work towards technical SEO:
URL structure, navigation and site structure
Properly structured websites in terms of both navigation and URLs can help crawlers understand how to index your site. Your URL structure can ensure no pages are excluded, and UX benefits from a cleaner structure as a byproduct.
Internal linking and 301 redirects
Similarly, internal linking can guarantee that all your pages are indexed promptly. 301 redirects for pages whose URLs you’ve changed can also transfer the ranking power search engines have assigned to your previous URL. At the same time, both of those practices also help your users find pages that are relevant to them more easily.
Finally, website speed hinges on many of the aforementioned factors, from your CMS to your design choices and content optimization. Faster loading speeds help your technical SEO no less than they benefit your visitors and, in turn, your website’s performance.
#5 Ensure your website is future-proof: being cautious with trends
Finally, as a note of caution, it should be noted that not all trends should be embraced as swiftly. For example, bold design trends may seem appealing and indeed have short-term benefits. However, not all design choices age equally well; the flashy, daring designs of the decades past have already started giving way to more classic looks. Thus, to ensure your website is future-proof, you may instead exercise caution; clean and straightforward designs tend to both age better aesthetically and assist with navigation.
A final note on future-proofing
With all of the above in mind, it is also worth noting that absolutely future-proofing a website may be an impossible task. One can accurately predict many trends and developments, and ensure as many safeguards as possible, but the digital age remains ever-changing. However, it should also be clear that striving to future-proof your website has merit and is indeed highly achievable. From the fundamentals of designing and setting up a website to how you manage and maintain it, there are many ways to prepare for the future to the best of your abilities.
About the Author
Brian Johnson is a freelance web designer, author, and copywriter. He frequently contributes blog content to WP Full Care, where he writes on usual CMS and SEO concerns and topics.